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Bark week brings families and their pups together for frisbee fun, athletic challenges

At a farm just off Morganton Road in Greenback, hundreds have gathered for a week of Frisbee throwing, agility testing and a few wet-nose kisses.

The event, called Bark Week, brings families to the area from as far away as Connecticut, Washington, California and Texas. Over the course of six days, dogs from breeds ranging from border collies and great Danes to Belgian sheepdogs and shelties will reach for the sky to grab discs in their teeth and show off their speed in the 100-yard dash.

It’s all taking place at Finny Farm, owned by Scott and Karen Echternacht. The farm, named after their beloved cocker spaniel, started receiving guests earlier this week.

On Thursday afternoon, the Updog event had owners throwing Frisbees — as many as they can during a specified amount of time — to see how high and how accurate the dogs could perform.

“This is an annual event,” Karen said. She started Canines for Karen back in 1995 to train dogs in sporting events. In the early days, she had to rent a space for the agility, trick dog, farm dog, canine good citizen, rally, scent work and agility competitions. Then, five years ago, she and Scott bought the Greenback property.

“We decided to just pay a mortgage and do it here,” Karen explained.

With five dogs of her own, all cocker spaniels, Karen said she probably has close to 250 dogs on her property this week.

“Any dog is trainable and all are welcome,” she said.

There are still three days left, counting today, and Karen invites the public to come be entertained by these skilled canines. Activity starts up at 8 a.m. and goes until 4 or 5 p.m., she said.

Agility is the focus today through Sunday. Karen said spectators will see a variety of breeds run through tunnels, jump over objects and maneuver themselves through the course. Spectators should bring lawn chairs.

Jamie Skinner brought her dog, Gideon, to demonstrate his skills in Updog and other challenges. The 3-year-old border collie is No. 2 in the nation in Fast CAT (coursing ability test), she said. He was interested in watching the Frisbee throws on Thursday afternoon.

Get him in the 100-yard dash and he’s in his element, Skinner said. He’s run 29.5 miles per hour, his fastest time.

“He just hauls,” this owner said. “I’ve never had a dog like this. He is special.”

Friends Caitlyn Olvitt and Balla Rowe, from the St. Louis area, had eyes glued on the disc competition. In Olvitt’s arms was her pride and joy, 9-week old border collie, Kite.

“She’s not in the games yet,” Olvitt explained. “This is socializing for her. She is having so much fun. She wants to love on everybody.”

Olvitt and Rowe brought their other dogs with them who were entered in several events. Stardust and Juno were going to try a lot of different things, Rowe said.

“Border collies are the perfect dog for discs,” Rowe said. “And also agility. They are good communicators and have such a willingness to please.”

In addition to the challenges going on at Finny Farm, an area behind Greenback High School was put to use for the 100-yard dash. Sharon Webb, of Georgia, was busy checking in dogs and registering their times. She brought her two dogs, too.

“We go all over the region,” Webb said. “That includes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee.” She said by the time the week is over, there will have been close to 800 runs through the Fast CAT course. Each dog can do two runs each day.

Julie Adams came from Nashville with her terrier. She said she has four other dogs she brings to competitions like this.

Fast CAT is done one dog at a time as they have a decoy to chase. Dogs compete against other dogs in their breeds.

Just as Hera was finishing up, there came along a Great Dane named Caliber. He is still a puppy. His owner, Jenessa Janssen, said she just wanted to give him a test.

“I just wanted to see if he would enjoy it,” she said. “I think he did.”

Blount County Schools adopts five-year strategic plan

The Blount County Board of Education adopted a strategic plan for 2021-26 on Thursday, June 10, that sets ambitious goals for instruction, achievement and culture.

Blount County Schools developed a dozen goals, with action steps and measurable benchmarks, over a months-long process that included school board work sessions and three committees with nearly three dozen educators and administrators.

BCS also honed its vision and mission statements to just a dozen words. The vision: Graduating students equipped to achieve excellence. The mission: Maximizing the academic growth of every student.

“We’ve set some very high expectations, but this has been with the input of teachers and principals that feel like we should aim high,” Director Rob Britt said, adding that even if the district doesn’t hit the high targets the progress still would be worth celebrating.

Board members also indicated they plan to closely monitor action steps and progress, asking for updates after student assessments given three times a year, as well as during the board’s annual retreat starting this fall.

“In my experience when you don’t have those things on some sort of timeline ... it’s easy for things to slip,” board member Vandy Kemp said.

Three areas

The plan is divided into three categories, effective instruction, equipped students and excellent culture.

Four of the six instruction goals focus on literacy, with different measures and steps from kindergarten through 10th grade.

One of the biggest pushes aims to increase from 33% this year to 83% in the 2025-26 school year the percentage of students in grades three through five scoring at the on track or mastery level on the TNReady literacy assessment.

At the high school level the district plans to add an ACT preparation course as a graduation requirement, to raise the number of students who score at least 21 on the exam, a measure of college readiness. An ACT score of 21 also qualifies students for the state’s HOPE Scholarship.

The “Equipped Students” goals are designed to help students meet not only academic but also personal and professional challenges.

BCS aims to nearly double the number of students the state considers “Ready Graduates,” based on measures such as ACT and military aptitude test scores, as well as earning industry certifications or college credit while still in high school.

With the Class of 2019 results released last November, BCS fell below the statewide average of 40.7% being Ready Graduates, while Maryville and Alcoa City Schools ranked fifth and 15th in the state, respectively.

To create greater awareness of the career and technical education programs in high school, the district plans events for elementary students and their parents.

Under culture BCS is looking at everything from how many students feel they belong and are supported at school to teacher pay and facilities.

One goal is to increase the minority educators on staff from 2% to 10%, a number that would mirror the current student population.

“We realize that’s probably the floor, but that’s where we need to start,” Britt said. “We need to get there first and then begin to build from there.”

A recent survey also found only 40% of students feel like they are an important part of their school, receive emotional support there and that individual differences are recognized and celebrated.

One of the action steps for that goal is to add two counselors a year to the district.

BCS also wants to increase teacher pay to rank in the top 25% of Tennessee districts, instead of near the bottom 15%.

Much of the work for facilities assessment and planning will fall to James Duke, recently hired to manage maintenance, facilities and capital projects. A retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, he has been on the job less than two weeks and already toured all 21 schools.

Most Alcoa historic markers now up

Alcoa’s 100-plus years are now reflected across the city as most of the 19 planned wayside markers cataloging its history are up and ready for local tourism.

The markers are a long-time “dream” of city historian and Blount County Circuit Court Judge David Duggan, city officials said in a news release.

Funding and interest for the project didn’t come to fruition until the city’s 2019 centennial celebration, which budgeted some money for the project.

However, there weren’t sufficient funds to “do the project justice,” according to the release, until recently when Arconic Tennessee Operations and Arconic Foundation filled the gap with grant money.

“Who better to assist with such an undertaking than the company whose roots founded the city?” the release said.

The centennial budget and the grant combined to allow Alcoa government to purchase signage from Pannier, a company that builds exhibits for clients like the National Park Service.

Duggan wrote the texts and chose the images for each of the 19 exhibits designated for various historic sites around the city.

Where possible, the markers were placed near or along sections of greenway trail near the location of a historically significant event or structure.

Each marker recounts and preserves the story of Alcoa the city and ALCOA Inc. the company.

The waysides vary in form, from the traditional T-style to triple-pedestal, triple-offset and three-sided kiosk designs.

Not all 19 are installed yet: Crews have installed 11 so far, five in along Springbrook Park Greenway. Others are at:

• the Holston Conference parking lot on Rankin Road.

• the rock garden on the corner of Hall Road and Howe Street.

• East Edison Street and North Wright Road.

• the greenway across from the former Nicely’s store — now the Masonic Lodge.

• the Duck Pond.

• the entrance to Springbrook Pool.

Alcoa public works crews installed all of these and the rest will be in place soon, according to the release.

“I’m very excited to see these markers going up: So many people worked hard to make this happen, and of course we’re grateful to the city of Alcoa and Arconic for funding,” Duggan said in the release. “I wish they could all go up at once, but for some of them we’re waiting on completion of construction projects and for some we are working out agreements with private property owners. They will all be up soon, and they will make an impact in our community because these markers tell and depict much of our city’s history. They’re well done, and I hope our citizens enjoy them and are reminded of those who went before us and made our life here possible.”

Some of the wayside exhibits will remain in storage until the completion of various public projects, such as the one representing the West Plant and Springbrook communities.

Crews soon will place that one in the Faraday and Mills streets area, which is currently under construction.

Another three-pedestal stand representing Alcoa High School and its storied basketball and football programs and their players and coaches will be placed in the coming months.